Philanthropists Offer Prize for Bone Marrow Donation, Get Threat of Prison Sentence for Their Trouble


These days, donating bone marrow isn't so bad. In most cases, you no longer have to go under anesthesia and no one sticks a giant needle in your hip bone anymore. Instead, drugs to cause your body to overproduce the useful stem cells, which are shed into the bloodstream and easily extracted from blood drawn through a (relatively) non-scary needle in the arm, just like a normal blood donation.

Which makes it all the more ridiculous, former Reason Editor in Chief Virginia Postel writes in a moving Bloomberg column, that offering money for a match is still illegal

When Amit Gupta told his friends a few weeks ago that he had acute leukemia and needed a bone-marrow transplant, the word spread quickly.

Two friends offered $10,000 each to find a donor.

With $20,000 at stake, the cause did indeed take on new urgency. Instead of just passing on news that Gupta needed help, people started bragging #IswabbedforAmit on Twitter. The money also made for a sexier news story. The website TechCrunch drove new waves of interest with an article headlined, "#IswabbedforAmit Offers Up 20K To Find A Bone Marrow Donor For Startup Founder Amit Gupta."

There was only one problem. The offer was illegal.

Amit's money men revised their offer, proffering money for the first match, whether or not there is a donation. That keeps them within the letter of the law, out from under the threat of a fine and five years in prison, and keeps the swabs coming.

But that law may be on the way out:

In February, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban on valuable consideration for bone-marrow donations. The suit was brought by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm, on behalf of plaintiffs who include patients, parents of sick children, a doctor who does bone- marrow transplants and a charity that would like to offer incentives, such as scholarships, to encourage more donations.

The lawsuit argues that since marrow cell transplants aren't significantly different from blood transfusions, the federal government has no "rational basis" for outlawing the kind of compensation that is perfectly legal not only for blood but also for other regenerating tissues, such as hair and sperm, not to mention eggs, which don't regenerate. This disparate treatment of essentially similar processes, it maintains, violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. A decision could come down any day.

More Postrel on legalizing the sale of human bits and pieces here:

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  1. ‘Overproducing stem cells’ sounds kind of dangerous.

    1. What if you could take that drug and become some kind of super hero? Or it makes you crazy like Christopher Reeve in the stem cell episode of South Park.

  2. Any crazy joe quotes about the IJ wrt bone marrow donations?

    1. rob,


      Don’t get suckered by the IJ. They seize on cute, fuzzy marrow donation poster boys in order to push radical changes to the law in the service of stem cell deregulation.

      “Simply put, the government is not allowed to require people to get a license in order to produce blood marrow.”

      Simply put, this outfit is committed to eliminating the distinction between commercial marrow and individual marrow.

      1. Until now, I had assumed someone was tracking down real joe quotes for those comments.

        1. That’s a real joe comment with marrow substituted for speech. Everything else is 100% joebag.

      2. Fucking surreal. Trying to help people is automatically evil if there’s a profit involved.

  3. Human Microphone: Repeat after me: I…
    Mob: I…
    Human Microphone: …your name…
    Mob: …your name…
    Human Microphone: Shmucks. [continues aloud]…do pledge allegiance…
    Mob: …do pledge allegiance…
    Human Microphone: …to Hedley Lamarr…
    Mob: …to Hedy Lamarr…
    Human Microphone: That’s Hedley!
    Mob: That’s Hedley!

  4. “I would be able to travel…I want to go to Indianapolis”

  5. This is idiotic. If we own our bodies (ha!) then we should be able to sell the fruits of our labor, and the actual body we use to produce the fruits of our labor. It’s completely in line with legalizing a few other activities, but this is an even easier argument because it’s actually helpful.

    The counter-argument, I believe goes something like this: if people can pay for donations, there will be a lot of cases where people are abducted and their organs stolen, or something like that, or they could be otherwise “compelled” to donate. Or poor people would harm themselves by donating organs for money. That last part ignores free-will, responsibility, and self-ownership though. Am I missing anything?

    1. I thought the argument they were using was that the poor 99% would die in the streets while rich white capitalists hoarded all those delicious organs to have with their fava beans. Now you are “supposed” to wait in line depending on need, unless you just happen to be a rich ex baseball player.

      1. The healthy poor could make some scratch selling organs, and then turn around and buy organs for their sick poor friends!

    2. I know like the way healthy universal donors; fertile, tall, rich, high IQ males; fertile, egg abundant young women; are abducted for their precious blood/sperm/eggs, or die drained of their blood/sperm/eggs trying to get more of that sweet sweet cash.

      Let’s create a black market, it solves everything!

    3. Commerce Clause, bitches!

      We can’t have people selling their bits and affecting the interstate trade of human bits, all willy-nilly.

  6. Which makes it all the more ridiculous, former Reason Editor in Chief Virginia Postel writes in a moving Bloomberg column, that offering money for a match is still illegal.

    It’s not about regulating the market, silly-willy! It has always been about controlling YOU!

  7. Wait, you can get paid for donating blood? The Red Cross has been scamming me for years!

    1. Seriously! Also, I need to look into donating sperm for money. Talk about turning a hobby into a job. Do they pay extra if you’re a genius?

      1. They do. But don’t admit to ever having smoked pot in your life. They hate that.

  8. I have been on the bone marrow donor list for about 12 years. I would be delighted if I was asked to actually make a donation and proud to do so.

    Although I would do it without compensation, I am absolutely OK with people asking money for donating – especially if it gets more people on the donor list.

  9. I wish folks could read.

    The equal protection clause applies ONLY TO THE STATES and NOT TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Read the 14th.

    Stupid people.

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